Fall and spring are great times to plant. The weather is cool and rainy, allowing small sprouts to take root and thrive. If you’re headed up to the cabin this weekend, why not survey your shoreline and think seriously about naturalizing it? It’s easier than it sounds, you’ll love how it looks, and best of all, you’ll be taking a step to make sure your kids and future generations will be able to enjoy the lake in years to come.
Until this summer, my husband’s parents had a grassy, green lawn running from where their cabin stood down to the rocks which had been placed at the water’s edge many years ago. Many of the rocks were slipping into the lake, and the shoreline was beginning to tumble into the water too. Their lake, like many, is susceptible to potentially dangerous blue/green algae blooms, and lawns like theirs contribute to the problem, as fertilizer can flow easily from the lawn into the water.
Last year at the state fair, they spoke with someone who told them they might be able to get a grant through the Atkin County Soil and Water District and the Big Sandy Lakes’ watershed project (originating from the Department of Natural Resources) to help them naturalize their lake shoreline, if they were willing to contribute the labor. They applied and were able to get a grant, work with a landscaper, and replant their shoreline with plants that will slow runoff, reduce erosion, and filter nutrients that can cause algal blooms in the lake. The plantings are filling in after being planted in July, and they look beautiful! Many of the plants have lovely flowers (Lupine, Flox, Columbine) and plants like Swamp Milkweed, which grows close to the water, will be butterfly magnets next summer.
A shoreland buffer strip (also called a filter strip or buffer zone) separates your lawn from the lake. It typically includes taller grasses, blooming plants, shrubs and trees, as well as aquatic plants such as cattails, rushes, and lilies. The work we did involved killing a strip of grass along the lake shore, cutting pieces of wild willow to bind together and stake at the water’s edge, putting natural mesh along the sloped land next to the lake and planting native plants in the prepared area. The dead grass served as mulch and my in-laws had a planting party for friends and other residents of the lake who were interested in learning about what they were doing. I think with 12 people, it took about 3 hours to do all the planting. Not bad for a day’s work.
If that sounds to intense, according to the University of Minnesota’s Shoreland Management Resource Guide, “The easiest approach to establishing a buffer strip is simply to do nothing. If you stop mowing, weeding, and raking your shoreland area, many native plants will likely reestablish.” The link above also lists local nurseries where you can buy native plants and suggests who you can talk to about what to plant on your lake. Or, get in contact with your local lake association to find out whether they have grant money available to help you naturalize your shoreline.
Our cabin still has a mowed green lawn behind the shoreland buffer strip, but we don’t fertilize it and it’s nice to know that someday our grandchildren may swim in cleaner, safer water and catch butterflies in the swamp milkweed by the lake’s edge.